The Pitfalls and Opportunities of Technology in Global Education
By: Christopher LeGrant - Diversity Abroad
According to most experts, the millennial generation is comprised of those born in 1982 and the approximately 20 years thereafter. This would make me among the first of that generation and consequently it often feels as though I grew up in a time that bridges the world before and after the birth of the Internet. This applies to my study abroad experience in the United Kingdom during the 2004/5 academic year as well. For example, most people at that time had mobile phones but they were archaic by today’s standards with functionality limited to actual phone calls and new the rage, texting. Social media was in its infancy and to call the U.S. I needed to buy an international calling card and use a landline. Because laptop computers were still too expensive for most students and Wi-Fi was nonexistent, using the campus computer lab to email home was common practice.
It’s true that 2004 offered a lot of conveniences over previous generations that needed to rely on things like travelers checks, payphones, and the physical mail but there was still a level of separation between myself and my community back in the United States. Through the advancement of technology, most of these remaining barriers have since been erased. In many places of the world students have instant access to their friends and family through social media and video/voice calls on their handheld devices, which can also be used to watch their favorite shows and listen to their own music. Because of this, many contemporary students studying abroad contend with a dependence on their support and social networks back home that can lead to very real challenges with language and cultural immersion as well as a possible sense of isolation while in-country.
However, this perspective is only one side of the double edged technology sword as there are many positive applications. Students can use the Internet to learn an incredible amount about the host country and culture before they depart. Travel blogs and social media groups comprised of peers currently living in their destination of interest are now common and can provide great first hand information. Websites like DiversityAbroad.com now exist to connect underrepresented students with opportunities and resources such as study abroad programs and scholarships that may have bypassed them completely in an earlier time. While in-country, services such as translation apps, online payment terminals, and Google maps function to make everyday life easier.
After returning home from an experience abroad, students can use technology to easily stay in contact with their host community, lessening the effects of language attrition and creating more opportunities to form lasting connections and friendships. For example, I conducted my master's research in rural Nicaragua and the continued accessibility of mobile technology allows me to keep in contact with my old host community there with a level of closeness not possible even a decade ago. Relatedly, students can continue to engage with media and news from the host country/culture, allowing for a degree of cultural and language immersion far after the program has ended. They can also reflect on their experiences and then contribute to the same online spaces that originally helped inspire their journey.
Advising, Support and Professional Development
Technology also affects how we as professionals interact and support students. The multiple and longstanding effects on recruitment are beyond the scope of this article but in terms of engagement, many providers and institutions can utilize both existing and custom apps to check in with their students while overseas. Social media groups, forums and other online spaces dedicated to certain study abroad programs or cohorts can also facilitate connections between the students and their home institution. Once these established connections are in place, professors and advisors can engage with students on reflection or career development exercises, allowing them to more fully process and leverage an abroad experience when they return.
Of course, this proliferation and ease of access to information is not just applicable to students. Technology continues to be a powerful tool available to those seeking professional development for themselves. For example, resources like Diversity Abroad’s Climate Diversity Notes and Diversity and Inclusion Advising Manuals can equip advisors and study abroad professionals with the knowledge to better support and advise underrepresented and diverse students without having to leave their office. E-learning systems like our On-Demand Short Courses are also a cost effective way to provide organizations, institutions and individuals with the skills, thought leadership and best practices to become better at what they do.
In conclusion, it’s vital to understand that many of the same technological tools that may hamper a student's experience can be used to enhance it. We as professionals can also embrace many of these same trends to become better at our jobs and to keep location-based global programing accessible, relevant and inclusive for all. Only through this knowledge can we ensure that technology represents more opportunities than pitfalls for both the students we serve and the field of Global Education as a whole.